Early in 2017, I was contacted by an individual who identified himself as a fellow of the Shuttleworth Foundation. He told me that it was his privilege to nominate an individual to receive a flash grant to help fund their works, and that he had selected me.
I had never heard of Shuttleworth at the time, and at first blush it sounded like somewhere between a long shot and a scam. We’ve all had those emails, right? Strangers don’t just contact you and tell you they want to give you money, right?
But I looked into it, and found out that the Shuttleworth Foundation is a real thing, and their flash grant program is a real thing with real recipients whose existence and work I could verify. Who knew? At that point I was still skeptical… not of the existence of the foundation or their grants, but of my own selection and worth.
Before 2016, most of my fame was as a satirist and fiction writer. My great work for the age of Trump—my calling—is a bit unusual, and hard to justify in terms people who haven’t experienced it would “get”.
I write about politics and current events, which is not in itself unusual. What is unusual is the format and venue it takes. My office is Twitter, and my medium is the thread.
This is not something I planned, and is not the life I would have chosen for myself. I did not set out to be anything other than a storyteller. I’ve dabbled in games and other forms, but my main medium has always been prose. Prose fiction. But on November 8th, 2016, as the election was ongoing and results coming in, I found myself on Twitter explaining what was happening.
And things kept happening.
And I kept explaining.
I’ve explained Congressional procedure. I’ve talked about historical precedents. I’ve broken down the rhetoric and psychology behind Trump’s speeches and interviews. I’ve pointed out patterns and trends.
And now, somehow, this has become my job. More than that, it’s my vocation. My calling. I have a talent and an ability to fill a need, and the need is real.
For lack of a better term, I usually call myself a pundit or an analyst. Sometimes I feel more like a cheerleader. Often, though, it hits me that what I’m really doing is what I’ve always been doing: telling stories. I’m telling people who are confused and scared and demoralized not the story of what happened, but the story of what’s happening. I can give context. I can give hope. I can help people see a course of action and a way forward.
I know the value of what I do. I just don’t know how to explain it to people who don’t, who assume that anything that’s free must be worthless and that anything on a social media site must be noise. The miracle of the flash grant is that no one asked me to explain. No one asked me to justify. A trusted individual told the Shuttleworth Foundation that I was doing something that makes the world a better place, and they provided me with a lump sum to do it.
It’s been almost a year since the election, and in that time the testimonial I have heard most often from people affected by my work is that I helped to bring them a little bit of calm and a semblance of security. This is what the flash grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation did for me.
The money came through at a crucial period in my evolving career. I am blessed that enough people see the value in what I do that I can contribute to my household on the strength of patronage and irregular tips. But this kind of works has its ups and downs, its lean periods. When I was sick for almost a month in the spring, and then absorbed the cost of convention events and travel, the grant helped to bridge those gaps.
The flash grant gave me security and peace of mind while I was transitioning from selling fiction to performing non-fiction, and looking back, I have little doubt that without this security net I would not have been able to maintain the level of calm, level-headed focus that is necessary to do what I do.
In the months since I was awarded the grant, I have had the time and space to refine my process and my working technique, build my audience and expand my patron base to a point where I’m comfortable enough and confident enough to keep doing it. I can’t say for how long the thing I’m doing is going to be sustainable, but that’s true of any endeavor. It’s working for me, for now, and that’s enough, for now.
For now, I can keep doing the work I’ve been doing, for the people who depend on it and who look to me. The funds from the Shuttleworth Foundation helped me get here.
So, I’d like to thank the foundation for having given me this opportunity, and for doing the same for so many other individuals, year after year. I couldn’t have done it without the money, but the real gift was knowing that someone out there believed so much in the value of what I was doing he would give me this chance.
As I sat down to put my thoughts in order for this post, I still felt a little “impostor syndrome”-y over the whole thing because I didn’t create a project or a product. I just increased my personal reach on Twitter and built ~*my brand*~ to the point where it’s somewhat sustainable. But as I wrote up top, it’s not as though I had some big plan or deep-seated desire to do this kind of work. It is work, and it is something I feel called to do, and I do it well.
Ultimately this post is a thank you to the foundation, to the one who nominated me, and to everybody else who has given me support, whether financial or otherwise. While nothing would make me happier than if my services were suddenly not needed, I am in this for the long haul.
If you’re reading this and you’d like to help support my work (political, artistic, and otherwise) now that the funding period is over, the best way to do that is through Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/alexandraerin